Best Above Ground Pool Filter Systems
Before we get into which pool filter systems was chosen as our best picks I want to mention that this was a much tougher than picking the best above ground pool or ladder. There are some great filter systems for above ground pools and the differences between them are minimal. I will give you the names of the others and explain these small differences, but first I want to elaborate more on the types of pool filter systems available, how they work and what the advantages are to each. It’s also important to note that above ground pools typical use a filter “system” which combines a matched filter and pool pump mounted to a based for easy set up and minimal plumbing. These filter systems also include all the fittings, hoses and clamps required for installation.
For those of you simply interested in getting the right filter configuration for your pool at a great price, simply click the filter images below to view different brands, models and pricing. These systems have everything you need to hook to your pool and run right out of the box, no fuss no muss.
For you die-hard bargain shoppers or pool customizers out there, I mentioned somewhere on this site before that you should never use price as your only criteria when shopping for a specific pool item, and filter systems are a perfect example of what I mean. What you may think is a huge savings on a new filter system may turn out to be a total mistake, so a little knowledge will go along way here.
When bargain shopping it’s very important that you pay close attention to the details, because practically every filter system is available in many configurations that can greatly effect their price and usability right out of the box. For some people or pool builders these variations in product offerings are great news, but for the average pool owner this can be a pitfall. Here’s an example of the ways a same named filter system could be configured.
- Different power cords. Some have a standard cord while others can be twist-lock. They don’t plug into the same power outlet as the prongs on the cord are in different locations. Some has no cord.
- Different size motors. Most above ground filter system are available in .75hp, 1.0hp and 1.5hp
- Different grade pumps with same filter system name. Dynamo pump , Matrix pump, Power Flo pump, Power Flo II pump, etc.
- Some systems come with or without the hose kit.
- Some systems come complete with everything mentioned above minus the actual filter element inside. That’s sold separately.
- Shipping cost. Make sure to factor in the total price of the system including shipping and handling.
- How A Cartridge Filter Works – When the pump is running, water coming from the pool enters the filter tank and passes through the filter’s pleated cartridge element. As the water is forced through the cartridge, hair, dirt, bugs, algae and other debris are caught on the outside of the cartridge and clean filtered water passes through and is returned back to the swimming pool.
- Cleaning The Cartridge – Like all swimming pool filters, the cartridge filter needs cleaning on a regular basis. Doing so is a easy operation. First turn off the pump and release any pressure within the filter tank by opening up the air relief valve. Now remove the upper half or top of the filter tank and remove the filter cartridge for service. Once removed, spray off the exterior and between the pleats with a garden hose. Use a nozzle to create a blasting or pressure cleaning effect. This step should take only 5-10 minutes to perform a good rinsing. Once cleaning of the cartridge is complete, simply reinstall the filter cartridge and reassemble the filter tank. Once back together, you are good to go for another week or two.
- Cartridge Replacement – Time, cartridge size, bather load, hours of use, chemicals, suntan lotion and more will eventually take their toll on the filter cartridge. They become clogged and the fibers that make up the cartridge begin to break down and water can no longer pass through efficiently. The factors described above dictate the life of the filter, but as a general rule most cartridges last 2-3 years in North Florida.
- Cartridge Filter Pros & Cons – The cartridge filter is a simple design with few moving parts inside. This makes for a reliable long lasting pool filter. Cartridge filters often have a tall and slender design which makes them perfect for tighter spaces. Compared to sand filters, they offer a larger filtering area making them an attractive option for most any swimming pool owner. The micron rating is greater making the cartridge system more capable of filtering out much smaller particles in the pool water than the sand filter. This makes removing fine contaminants like algae much easier to do. This is especially important in hot southern climates like North Florida where water temperatures can easily reach 90°+. When water temperature are this warm algae grows very quickly is adequate chlorine levels aren’t maintained. The only downside compared to a sand filter in my book is the amount of work or time spent cleaning the system. I feel that the additional 10 minutes and the inconvenience of getting my feet wet are a small price to pay for much better system for most applications. A cartridge filter would definitely be the choice for my pool.
How A Sand Filter Works – In swimming pools, water is pumped into a large tank that is filled with #20 Silica sand. As the water enters the top, a diffuser sprays the water out evenly across the top of the sand bed, ensuring perfect distribution.This water settles down through the sand bed entrapping the debris and returns back to the swimming pool filtered.
As the amount of debris, hair, bugs, algae, oils and more increases, the sand starts to become clogged. This restriction is noticeable on the pressure gauge located on the filter tank. The increase in tank pressure indicates the the filter is in need of cleaning or back-washing. The back-washing process rinse the sand of impurities and allows the water to flow freely again. The ease of flow lowers the pressure within the tank and the process starts over again. Keep in mind that the more a sand filter plugs up, the finer the particulates that are captured so its ok to let the pressure climb some, and not backwash too frequently. Normal operating pressure varies by filter but typically it runs between 10-20 psi. When the pressure within the tank increases by about 10 psi or more, back-washing is needed. Allowing too much pressure to build in the tank can damage the pump and possibly the filter tank.
Cleaning The Sand Filter – To clean or back-wash a sand filter, cut the power to the pump and set the control valve to backwash, then turn the pump back on. The filter will now rinse the sand within the filter tank, sending dirty water out the back-wash port. This water can be directed away from lawns, flowers or gardens as it is chlorinated and may cause damage to plant life. This is done simply by using a backwash hose attached to the back-wash port. Continue to backwash for about two minutes or until the water runs clear through the sight glass if equipped. Shut the pump off again and return the control valve to filter mode.
Sand Filter Pros & Cons – Sand will filter down to about 20 microns. This is small and enough to capture most all impurities in your pool water but this isn’t good enough to make the filtering out of algae an easy take. I have seen the algae pass right through the sand tank and back into the pool water. This can be quite frustrating when trying to get a green pool clear again. Sand filters will also becomes clogged and cakes up over time due to the accumulation of oils, lotions, hair and other debris. Even with regimented maintenance the sand within the filter tank should be replaced every 3-5 years for best results. About the only advantage sand filters offer in Florida is they’re easier to clean than the cartridge filter.
Best Cartridge Filter System – Hayward XStream
As I said before there are some great systems out there for above ground pools but we had to pick only one so we’re giving the nod to the Hayward XStream series because out of the box this is the best system. This system does include their Matrix pump which is their best above ground pump and other things that are better about this system over the Pentair Clean & Clear and others are the hoses and filter tank shape. The hoses are much better quality and will last longer than any other brand offers. They are thicker and softer, much closer to rubber hose than the hard plastic one that all filter makers include in their sand and cartridge systems. This is nice because these hoses are less prone to leak and last longer than the plastic ones.
If you’re going to plumb your system with PVC pipe or upgrade the hoses to something much tougher, than the differences between the Hayward and the Pentair or Sta-Rite is nothing. A PVC or high quality upgrade is recommended for all pool filter systems including the XStream systems. When performing this upgrade you should include shut off valves or ball valves to stop the flow of water when filter servicing is performed.
The other thing we like about this system is tank shape. I prefer the tank to split at the middle instead of the top, the reason is it’s easier to reach down in there if need be. I know this is splitting hairs but we like it.
The XStream system comes in 2 sizes, XStream 100 and XStream 150. The 100 is great for smaller pools up to 10,000 gallons and the 150 is great for pools over 10,000 gallons. For cartridge filter sizes and pricing click here
Best Sand Filter System – Hayward Pro Series
Much the same same way the cartridge filters were a close race, same goes for the sand filter systems. There are some good ones on the market so you really can’t go wrong with any major brand. Regardless of which model you choose I would still consider upgrading the hoses or replacing them with PVC pipe. This is a small investment that really pays off with piece of mind and better serviceability. Better hoses or PVC pipe are less likely to leak and would last for many years. Adding shut off valves to control water flow when servicing is a big plus. But for out of the box no mods performance I’d go with the Hayward Pro Series sand system. A very close second is the Sand Dollar by Pentair.
Again, if you’re going to plumb your system with PVC pipe or upgrade the hoses to something much tougher, than the differences between the Hayward and others like the Sand Dollar from Pentair is minimal at best.
The Pro Series from Hayward and Sand Dollar from Pentair both come in various tank and pump sizes. We feel 18″-19″ tanks with 1 hp pumps are great for pools up to 10,000 gallons and tanks 21″-23″ with 1.5 hp pumps are great for pools over 10,000 gallons. For sand filter sizes and pricing click here
“After reading your page I decided to give this system a try. I can’t believe the difference a good system makes. It’s nice to see some authentic people for a change, thanks for the info.”
“Thanks for the professional advise on filter systems. My husband and I went with the Pentair because it’s the brand we had in Ohio, but we upgraded the hoses as recommended. Thanks for helping this old couple get their pool in order again!”
“Bless you for taking the time to help me with my dilemma. The guys did a great job with the pool.”